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Rogue Agent: Chapter 8 (Part 2)
*****

"Wait, why do you get the big bed?"

"Because," Baroness groaned, "the big bed is in my room."

"And why do you get your own special room?" Varyar crossed his arms defiantly. "That sounds pretty sexist to me."

"Because they only had two-room suites. If you'd prefer to share a bed with Killer, be my guest."

"Guys," Killer implored testily as he covered his ear, "I'm on the phone...no, Candi, Varyar and I are not sleeping together..."

"Goddamned right we're not," Varyar retorted, tossing his duffel bag on the fluffy white cover of one of the twin beds while Killer waved him off. "Because somebody's still being a little-"

"Varyar..." Baroness snapped in a calm, yet authoritative manner.

Killer sighed, stepping out onto the tiny balcony and closing the door behind him. "Sorry about that, princess."

Candi's drawl came softly over the line. "He's still upset, huh? Did you give him...?"

"No, not yet. I was planning on waiting until tomorrow, although..." He yawned, breathing in the fragrant scent of hibiscus growing underneath the windows to the suite he was sharing with his friends. "At the rate he's going, he's going to get us shot by the Brazilian police before I get the chance to. And they're a lot nicer than some of the other types we might come in contact with."

"Well, you're not allowed to die on me now," she purred. "Not when in a few weeks I'll get to change my name to Mrs. McCoy."

Killer smiled dreamily as he leaned on the railing, listening to her words, then frowned as a thought interrupted his reverie. "Are you really okay with this? I mean, you were so against marriage, against even admitting I was Matthew's father, for years. Now, in the span of a few short months, you've left your grandmother, moved north with me, and now are planning our wedding." He ground at a small spot on the concrete with the toe of his boot. "I just...I need to know that this is what you really want, and not something that you're feeling forced into. Because I'd stay with you no matter what."

There was a pause. For a moment, Killer felt his heart quicken while he waited for her response. Finally, Candi's voice came back in the most serious tone he'd ever heard from her. "Killer, I love you. I have always loved you, and there is nothing in this world I want more than to be the Cortana to your Master Chief. Whatever happens down the road, whatever we face together, I want you to remember that. I want you. And I always will."

"So, does that mean..."

"It means yes. It also means you need to quit dawdlin' and talk to Varyar before you lose the best man."

A sigh of relief travelled 5000 miles over the phone connection. "I'll talk to him in the morning," he replied, peeking in to see the former Marine sprawled out and snoring. "Although I feel kinda bad. I'm giving Varyar a more elaborate proposal to be my best man than I did you to be my bride."

"I never needed anything elaborate," she said, her words wrapping around him like a velvety blanket. "But we can argue that another time. It's late, and you need to get some sleep. It's been a long day and I have a feeling tomorrow will be even longer."

The thought of their tasks for the following day suddenly brought on the full weight of exhaustion from their travels. Killer stifled a yawn. "You're right. Give Matthew a hug for me, and I'll call you tomorrow night. I love you, Candi."

"And I love you, Killer."

Back in Cleveland, Candi closed her eyes and waited for Killer to disconnect the call, keeping the phone to her ear a moment longer as she said a silent prayer for him to come home quickly and safely. An impatient "ah-hem" from across the room caused her to quietly shudder before opening them again.

"I take it the Rival team has made it to Rio?"

Candi bowed her head, staring at a spot on the carpet. "Yes."

"Excellent. You've done well." The lithe, dark figure rose from the sofa, contrasting starkly from the soft creams and light neutrals dominating the room. She crossed the three steps to the fireplace mantle, running a spidery finger along the frame of a new portrait of Candi, Killer, and Matthew together. "Such a happy family," she murmured, lifting it from the shelf. The woman stared at it intently, tracing a well-manicured nail around the outlines. "Just keep finding out what we want to know, and it can stay a happy family."

"Anise..." Candi pleaded.

The other woman whirled round on her heel, dropping the frame face down onto the hearth with a crash. Candi winced, praying Matthew would sleep through the noise. She wished Wolfie were there, but the Huskie had been banished to their bedroom for snapping at the visitor almost as soon as she arrived.

Anise kept her voice low, but her eyes blazed with cold fury. "You were the one who entered the pact," she spat. "You were the one who asked for our help. We held up our end of the bargain, and now is the time for you to make good on your promise. Unless you want your secrets to be revealed..."

"No." Candi choked back a sob, refusing to look anywhere but the spot on the floor. She took a steadying breath, trying to ignore the sounds of Wolfie frantically clawing the bedroom door while the other woman scrutinized her with narrowed eyes.

"Very well," Anise said finally. She kicked the fallen frame as she turned to go to the door. "You'll receive your next task shortly. And remember," she warned, "The Black Widows will not be trifled with. We have protected you in exchange for your cooperation. Should you try to cross us..."

"I will find what you ask," Candi replied, her voice barely above a whisper.

It wasn't until Anise left, her footsteps fading into the dark night, that Candi finally rushed to where her family portrait lay on the stone hearth. A long, jagged crack split the glass down the middle, separating Candi's image from that of her fiance and son.

*****
Varyar awoke with an annoyed grunt as Killer ripped open the curtains to their room, flooding the space with an explosion of painfully blinding sunlight. "Rise and shine, Varyar," the Oklahoman chirped in a tone that made the Marine want to punch him. "Did you have pleasant dreams? You were mumbling something in your sleep, but I couldn't make out what it was."

"Probably something along the lines of how goddamned much I hate morning people. It is way too fucking early to be whipping those drapes open."

Killer smiled, sitting down on the edge of his neatly made bed. "You know, it's going on one in the afternoon."

"Really?" Varyar rubbed his eyes, pulling his unwilling body up into a sitting position. His head was pounding, his throat felt like gravel, and the white walls of the room colluded with the sunshine to intensify an already unpleasant awakening.

"Yep. Baroness wanted to let you sleep as long as we could, but we figured you'd want to shower before we head over to Rocha's office."

"I appreciate that. I would also appreciate you closing those fucking drapes, unless you feel like explaining to that nice-looking Brazilian lady across the street why I'm strutting around in front of an open window desnudo."

"You do realize," Baroness's voice came from the other side of the partly open door, "that they don't speak Spanish in Brazil?"

"And you realize," Varyar snapped back, "that it doesn't matter what language it's spoken in, I'm pretty certain neither she nor I want to see my Yankee Doodle waving around in front of the open window in a country that already wants to shoot me. Now would you please close the goddamned drapes already?"

"Alright, alright, no need to get snippy..." Killer pulled the curtains back together, grinning all the while. It was starting to make Varyar very uncomfortable. He reached down to grab his jeans from the floor while his friend busied himself with something in his suitcase.

A short knock came at the door to their room a moment later as Baroness asked brusquely, "You decent?"

"That's what my ex-girlfriend says."

"Not what I heard," she tossed back, pushing her way into the room.

Rivalcast generally had a very laid-back dress code in their office that consisted mainly of 'don't be naked in public areas.' So when Baroness came in wearing a very professional skirt suit and heels, her hair twisted up in a bun, and forced grin failing to belie the look of extreme irritation peering out from behind her glasses, Varyar was taken aback. He'd known Baroness a long time, and knew what that look meant.

Which is why he visibly cringed when he heard Killer say, "Oh, that's cute, with those heels you're only half a head shorter than everyone el- OW!"

Varyar rubbed his temples in exasperation. "Killer...you kinda brought that on yourself."

"I did," he replied glumly, rubbing the spot on his arm where Baroness swatted him.

Baroness took a deep, calming breath. "So I just got some interesting news, which I'm trying to wrap my head around, and I came in because I need to witness something happy."

Killer glared at her, still rubbing his arm. "Well, I dunno, this is a pretty private moment, and also there is the matter of you just hit me..."

She raised an eyebrow and a half-hearted fist. "Just give it to him."

Killer sighed. "Fiiiiiiiiine..."

He grabbed a black case from where he'd stashed it at the foot of his bed, popping the clasps open as he turned to Varyar. He set the case on his lap, hinge side toward his stomach, and closed his eyes. After a deep breath, he said, "Varyar, this is for you," and opened the case in a manner not unlike a young man presenting a ring to his hopefully future bride.

When it finally registered what he was looking at, Varyar's eyes lit up, his hands moving up to his mouth as he gasped in surprise. "An STI H.O.S.T. doublestack? Oh my God, Killer, it's BEAUTIFUL," he gushed, reaching out to stroke the sleek black carbon barrel. "You even sprung for the tall tritium fixed suppressor sight! And...oh my god, you had it engraved with my initials?! Jesus Christ, did I blow you in my sleep?"

"Only the best for my battle buddy," Killer drawled with a smile.

Suddenly, Varyar's face darkened. "Battle buddy...wait a minute. Did you choose someone else to be your best man? Bitch, are you trying to buy me off?!"

"What? No!" Killer almost dropped the case as he sprang up, confused for a moment by the sudden blue fire glaring from under Varyar's eyebrows before he managed to compose himself. "Varyar, we've been through many battles together. From fighting Da Bark Lurd and Arachnos, to waging assaults in Heroes & Generals, Insurgency, Rainbow Six, Player Unknown: Battlegrounds..."

Varyar cleared his throat and Baroness made a little 'get on with it' gesture as Killer started to get lost in his reverie.

"...through all of that, you have always had my back, always avenged my deaths, and always been my friend. Even that one time on On Tap, when I was on trial for bullshit treason charges because Baroness was PMS-ing..."

"I'm totally going to slug you if you don't get to the point soon," Baroness warned.

"My point is, Varyar, that through thick and thin, you've always been there for me, and you are the only person I would want by my side as I take one of the biggest steps in my life. Raymond Varyar, would you do me the honor of being my best man?"

Baroness tried not to gag as Varyar looked at Killer, his eyes dewey with emotion as he replied softly, "Aw, bitch...."

*****
[1:32] == The_Baroness [webchat@cpe-174-104-251-24] has joined #rivalcast
[1:33] <@The_Baroness> I need moral support.
[1:34] <TheOlive> still not in Rio yet?
[1:34] <@The_Baroness> Oh, no, we're here
[1:34] <@The_Baroness> Barely, but we're here
[1:35] <@The_Baroness> But I don't think this interview is going to go well. At. All.
[1:35] <@teh_leet_haxor> are Varyar and Killer still at odds?
[1:36] <@The_Baroness> No, actually they've got an ultimate bromance thing going on right now that rivals that of Dee, Bubba, and Val.
[1:37] <TheOlive> .....
[1:38] <@teh_leet_haxor> .....
[1:38] <@Deededee> Heresy.
[1:39] <@The_Baroness> That's what I said, yet here I sit, listening to them gushing in the next room over their guns
[1:39] <TheOlive> I hope you mean that as literal guns and not something else
[1:39] <@The_Baroness> Trust me, it's borderline
[1:40] <@Deededee> I just called down to the warehouse and Bubba will be in the Hentai Kamen outfit when you return. NO ONE out-bromances the Trisexuals!

Back in his hotel room, Hax shuddered at the memory of Bubba's extremely accurate cosplay the previous Halloween that had been so spot-on, it caused Mysti, Rivalcast's former HR director, to resign in disgust. Though the event had the very fortunate outcome of the board finally being rid of the dictatorial social justice warrior, Hax felt he could have done without the image of his friend glistening with oil as he ran around the office in fishnet stockings and a barely-there, V-shaped "body suit." He tabbed over on his laptop to find an appropriate kitten picture to link to Baroness, whom he was certain was now having the same recollection as he on top of whatever else it was she was upset about, just as a private message ping popped up on his screen:

[1:42] <@The_Baroness> You have no idea how much I wish you were here right now.

The web ninja read the message in surprise. He was certain she couldn't possibly know he was only a few blocks away; he'd even gone so far as to present the ruse he would be working in France for a few days in the unlikely case she noticed the IP was different. He paused a moment, unsure of exactly how to respond, when a second message appeared:

[1:43] <@The_Baroness> I need you to do something that might be very important. Do you have access to that program you were working on that basically turned a cell phone into a homing beacon?

This was concerning. Though Hax would on occasion discuss vexing projects with Baroness (finding the explanation of the idea to someone unassociated with the work sometimes helped him see things he might otherwise have overlooked), due to the sensitive nature of his research the pair rarely spoke directly about the specifics of his non-RCM projects in IRC, even in private chat. It wasn't completely unheard of, given the proper circumstances, but it was enough to put him on alert.

[1:44] <@teh_leet_haxor> erm...possibly, though I've never tried running it through VPN before.
[1:44] <@teh_leet_haxor> Whose mobile would be the intended target?
[1:44] <@The_Baroness> Mine

The web ninja stopped, his fingers poised over the keys while his mind whirred. Baroness was quite capable of handling difficult situations in her own right. In addition, she had the immediate backup of both a former Marine and the head of a security firm (plus himself, he thought, though she didn't know that). The fact she was privately asking to be tracked via satellite at all was exceptionally troubling.

[1:46] <@The_Baroness> I can't
[1:47] <@The_Baroness> I can't explain in detail right now, but Lucia sent a message this morning warning me to be extra cautious. Apparently there was a murder a few weeks ago whose victim looked so uncannily like me that she wanted to check in

Fuck. Hax rubbed at his temples, resisting the urge to scream in frustration. Mary had been extremely careful in keeping their case under wraps, so he was certain any leak of information was a result of Bennett.

[1:48] <@The_Baroness> And last night when we got to Rio, I thought I noticed someone following us from the airport. It could have just been because I was tired, but...I just have a bad feeling. It might be nothing, but I tend to trust my instincts.

Fuck fuck fuck.


[1:49] <@The_Baroness> I know, it probably sounds ridiculous. I'd just feel better knowing someone else was watching out in case something goes wrong.
[1:49] <@teh_leet_haxor> it isn't
[1:49] <@teh_leet_haxor> but all the same, don't worry
[1:50] <@teh_leet_haxor> I'm certain I can accommodate your request in some form or another
[1:50] <@The_Baroness> : )
[1:50] <@The_Baroness> I have to go now. If it's not too late for you when we get back, I'll try to catch you to let you know how it went
[1:51] <@teh_leet_haxor> I'll be up
[1:51] <@The_Baroness> Thank you
[1:51] <@The_Baroness> You really are an amazing friend, you know that?

Hax stared at those words for a moment after she'd logged off, then grabbed the Glock from under his pillow as he quickly left to follow them.

*****

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Crap, what happened last time?
ON WITH THE STORY!
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